Old fish market that got a golden makeover
St. John’s fish market
The Gold Centre seems an anomaly smack in the middle of the Pettah. A huge edifice covered in gold plating, amidst shops selling dried fish. The smell may dampen the luxurious effect the building is clearly meant to create, but serves as a reminder of the building’s past as the legendary ‘St. John’s Fish Market’. From 1894 until 2011 this was Colombo’s largest fresh fish market. Fish of every imaginable type would be transported here, fresh off the boat. Many traders fondly remember the old days: ‘When the fish market was still around, I used to open up my shop at 7 am and sell cane baskets to carry fish. By 9 am when my employees arrived, I’d have already made about 3,000 rupees’ says Mohammed Akram from Gaddafi Traders.
Back then you would have to raise your trousers and skirts walking through the market. Now it’s a clean and shiny mall with over 80 jewellery stalls and small stores selling precious stones, gems and jewellery for decent prices. It’s mostly branches of the jewellery dealers along Sea Street, so not a bad place for one-stop-shoppers who want air-con, convenience and an ATM nearby, but the best deals are still made out on the streets.
Tip from the traders
Probably the best thing about the Gold Centre is the welcome air-conditioning that caresses your skin the minute you walk in. The huge lobby area with wooden benches is a great place for some cooling off in the middle of your Pettah walk. We also like the little Indian Café on the first floor, run by Ponnusamy, a pretty decent Indian restaurant in Colombo.